Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest film from Wes Anderson, a colourful, highly-stylised director whose films have a unique look, feel and sound no other director who dare try and recreate.
Grand Budapest Hotel sees Anderson transporting us to 1930s Europe where a hotel concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young lobby boy, Zero, under his wing (Tony Revolori). Gustave takes pleasure in entertaining older women. However, when one of them leaves an expensive painting to him in her will, Gustave is targeted by the late woman’s family who feel he has no right to this priceless work of art.
The experience of watching an Anderson film is somewhat akin to going round a stately home or art museum. That is, that feeling of wonder one gets when walking into a grand, meticulously decorated room with all kinds of quirks and features that capture the eye.
As ever with Anderson films, the first thirty minutes is the best part of the film as we are introduced to the world Anderson has built for us. Much like The Life Aquatic‘s submarine, and Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s home there is that feeling of awe and wonder as we admire the detail Anderson has put into each and every frame of his film.
If Anderson’s films were to be judged merely on their art direction, it is difficult to think of any who would be his better. However, when it comes to creating characters, I find them all, almost without exception, to be intensely unlikeable people. Gustave, like most of Anderson’s protagonists is narcissistic, and has few saving features beyond his charm and charisma. The only reason we feel any sympathy for him is because the antagonists in the movie are cartoon villains determined to prevent him from getting what he ‘deserves’.
If there’s an exception to the rule of Anderson’s narcissistic protagonists it comes in Moonrise Kingdom with the children who play central roles. They, of course, are just as self-obsessed as all of Anderson’s creations, but because of their youth I am prepared to forgive them for it.
Anderson’s critics often accuse him for opting for style over substance. However, for me it goes further than that. It is not that his movies have no substance, it is that when one considers the values his films seem to stand for one can only see a bunch of selfish people learning very little and expecting us to feel good for them.
Perhaps this is what Anderson is trying to say. None of us really change. We will remain selfish and self-obsessed all our lives, and expect people to pat us on the back for the one moment of slightly unselfish behaviour for which we would like to be remembered. The problem is that because his film only contain this type of character, it’s impossible to tell if he thinks everyone is like this, or merely just the educated, introspective characters he chooses to portray.
Grand Budapest Hotel is a film then much like the cakes Zero’s love interest bakes: beautiful to look at, but lacking in any type of enriching substance.